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Musical Poetics.

Joachim Burmeister. Trans., intro. and annot. Benito V. Rivera. (Music Theory Translation Series.) New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993. lxiv + 306 pp. $50.

The Music Theory Translation Series, under the painstaking guidance of Claude V. Palisca, has continued to produce excellent translations of major theoretical treatises, ranging in period from antiquity to the late eighteenth century. Joachim Burmeister's Musica poetica of 1606 is the eleventh volume to appear, and the only one so far to include the original text on facing pages. A facsimile edition appeared in 1955, but is not easy to read. Nor is the treatise easy to understand, due partly to Burmeister's schoolmasterly bent -- he was praeceptor classicus at the town school in Rostock -- and mostly to his decision to invent new terminology. Largely derived from rhetorical theory (probably from Melanchthon, via Lucas Lossius), terms such as hypallage, hypotyposis, parrhesia, pathopoeia, and syncope are used to describe musical procedures, not always in a way one would expect from the rhetorical analogue (indeed, in some cases Burmeister even changed his mind between treatises). He went beyond rhetoric however in his search for new terms (e.g. disparata for accidentals, tautoepia for parallel perfect motion, elleima coniugati for improper chord doublings) and new uses of old terms (e.g. synemmenon for B-flat, diezeugmenon for B-natural). He himself was aware that these terms "[did] not quite please the experts," but defended them as a pedagogical strategy "so that the material being discussed will be understood and the mind not be suspended in ignorance because of some ambiguous and obscure statement or remark" (237; from the introduction to his earlier treatise, Musica autoschediastike).

Benito Rivera has now come to the assistance of the mind suspended in ignorance, and it is a pleasure to report that he has done so with exemplary care and accuracy (apart from a missing chart), transforming Burmeister's convoluted prose into readable English and annotating all the rhetorical terms as to meaning and source. Moreover, he has included in appendices the introductory letters and poems from two of Burmeister's earlier treatises, of which the present treatise is a revised version (the differences are discussed in the introduction), and seventy-six musical passages, mostly illustrating musical figures. While Burmeister referred to many pieces, he gave few musical examples, and those mostly in a shorthand score of his own devising, using alphabetic notation. Thus one more obstacle for the modern reader has been overcome.

Burmeister stands at the head of a long tradition, adumbrated in the sixteenth century but fully developed in the seventeenth, of categorizing musical procedures in terms of rhetoric, the so-called Figurenlehre or Doctrine of the Affections. He defines "affectio musica" as "a period in a melody or in a harmonic piece, terminated by a cadence, which moves and stirs the hearts of men" (xlix). Using Lasso's In me transierunt irae tuae, he provides a model of musical analysis, separating the motet into nine sections according to its musical figures. None of the procedures was new (he could just as well have chosen examples from Josquin), but his system caught on because it offered a concise way to describe musical events; if Renaissance theorists often seem tongue-tied when it comes to describing how musical pieces work, their successors have still not solved the problem. We continually seek new ways to analyze music, in the hope that it will lead to understanding, always worrying whether our understanding, inevitably colored by later music and later methods of analysis, would have made sense in contemporary terms.

While the discussion of musical figures has always been the primary interest of Burmeister's treatise, he also has much to say about composition in general, as is to be expected from the title, poetica being concerned with the "making" of music, as opposed to theory and practice. He stresses transcription, study, and imitation of the best masters. Musical figures should be memorized together with their text; this "subject matter can securely be borrowed from the masters, after whose example we should strive to fashion something similar" (209). In imitating specific masters, the student should first start out with those who excel in the lowly style, gradually progressing to the elevated style, and completing the journey with Lasso, Burmeister's model of the musical orator. We owe it to Benito Rivera that we can now follow that journey more easily.
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Author:Blackburn, Bonnie J.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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